Unemployment among women is higher than among men for the first time in almost 40 years after a brutal slowdown on the high street.
The alarming development, revealed by Office for National Statistics (ONS), came on another bleak day that left four British retailers – Mothercare, New Look, Moss Bros and Carpetright – fighting for their lives.
Household names Toys R Us and Maplin have already crashed into administration this month.
Threat: Four British retailers – Mothercare, New Look, Moss Bros and Carpetright – are fighting for their lives
Experts said the malaise on the High Street could be behind a rise in female unemployment, with women traditionally taking roles as shop assistants and cashiers.
The unemployment rate among women rose to 4.4 per cent between November and January, from 4.1 per cent in the previous three months.
By contrast, the jobless rate among men fell to 4.2 per cent from 4.4 per cent.
It was the first time female unemployment has been higher than male unemployment since 1980, according to the ONS.
However, with more women than ever in the workforce, a record 15.1m have jobs.
The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested the change in unemployment patterns between the sexes was down to a shortage of part-time jobs in retail that tend to offer opportunities to women.
Ian Brinkley, who is the acting chief economist at the CIPD, said: ‘Job growth has been stronger in areas such as manufacturing and construction, which are traditionally male-dominated areas of the economy, than it has in retail, which has previously provided a large number of part-time work opportunities.
‘If the Government wants to reverse this trend, they need to ensure that they are promoting flexible working so more women can get into the labour market – but also look at breaking down the barriers to ensure that women can get into work right across the economy.’
The CIPD said the rise in female unemployment was the major concern in an otherwise upbeat jobs report from the ONS.
The statisticians said the number of people in work has risen by 402,000 to a record 32.25m in the past year while unemployment has fallen by 127,000 to 1.45m, despite a rise of 24,000 in the last three months.
Carpetright revealed it is looking to shut some of its 409 stores in the UK after asking one of its shareholders for a £12.5m emergency loan
The unemployment rate is at a 43-year low of 4.3 per cent, half the 8.6 per cent jobless rate in the eurozone.
Wage growth has picked up to 2.8 per cent, meaning it is now higher than inflation at 2.7 per cent, bringing the squeeze on family finances to an end.
Stephen Clarke, the senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation, said: ‘Britain’s 12-month pay squeeze has finally ended.’ But the crisis on the High Street shows no signs of abating.
New Look said it will close 60 UK stores, putting 980 jobs at risk, as it fights to cut costs and win back customers.
Carpetright revealed it was looking to shut some of its 409 stores in the UK after asking one of its shareholders for a £12.5million emergency loan.
The flooring specialist employs 2,700 people in the UK.
Meanwhile, Mothercare is in crisis talks with its lenders to secure fresh funds as it seeks to prop up the business.
And Moss Bros warned its full-year profits have been hammered by a shortage of customers hiring its suits.
Eric Benedict, UK market leader at consulting firm Alixpartners, said the High Street was being hit by a ‘toxic cocktail’ of rising rents, business rates and living wage costs.